Trade Associations
Everything Jim said is true ("What Good Are Trade Associations?" April 2008 PM). However, it missed today’s problem and today’s need for PHCC active member support.

For the last several years we have been blasted with lead paint on toys from China, poisonous pet food and contaminated food staples from China and the USA. America’s regulatory agencies are falling apart from lack of funding under the current administration. I can’t do anything about that except vote in the fall.

However, in our market area, regulation ceased to be effective many years ago. At our PHCC-Northern Virginia Chapter meetings, we discussed many instances of bootleg jobs we had seen. Last spring we invited the Fairfax County Chief of Code Enforcement and a regional supervisor from Virginia’s Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation to speak at a chapter meeting and take our questions.

Both speakers were appreciative of the chance to speak candidly with our licensed master plumbers and HVAC contractors. Our members’ worst fears were realized. Neither the county nor the state had enough inspectors to investigate any of the unmarked vans sitting in homeowners’ driveways day after day.

As a result of that meeting, Fairfax County was in the process of introducing a process for our membership to report violations of the county’s plumbing and mechanical codes by sending a violation notice to a designated chapter member who, on behalf of our PHCC-Northern Virginia Chapter, would then register the complaint for code enforcement action.

Unfortunately, it took eight months of coordinating between four different county agencies to get the support and approval to proceed. Note: No one objected to the planned process, it was just that the process of communication with a sequence of agencies was not rapid. About the time the program was to be programmed into the county’s computer system and implemented, the effects of falling home assessments caused major budget and staff cuts. The method of reporting bootleggers doing illegal work was stopped cold.

We struck out this time. However, our PHCC chapter will meet again and again to see what 40 bright licensed contractors can do to help improve our situation in our immediate market area.
Tom Warner
Board member
PHCC-Northern Virginia Chapter

Editor’s note: We received letters from two trade association executives in response to Jim’s editorial:

Trade Association Relevance Continues Today
Jim Olsztynski’s “What Good Are Trade Associations?” editorial in April’s PM was a timely reminder about the positive impact strong trade associations, like the Chicago PCA (a PHCC affiliate), can make for their members and society at large. His article also raised some excellent points about why associations need to remain strong and involved today and in the future.

In my opinion, trade associations are more relevant today than at any time in history. Sure, some may have fewer members than they used to, but that is because of changes in our society. In PHCC’s “heyday,” the local plumbing association meeting was one of the main social activities in a contractor’s life. Also, there was a lot of pressure on a contractor to belong to PHCC before laws made it impossible to collude on pricing.

Now, association meetings are just one of many choices in ways to network with other contractors and customers, and discussions of pricing are banned at all meetings. It is a totally different world.

Why do I say trade associations are more relevant? Just look at the ways an association like PHCC can help members prepare for the future:
  • The greatest challenge in our industry is the lack of an adequate workforce. Only those local areas with active trade associations will be able to meet this challenge. Sure, some companies will do their own thing to train a few technicians, but the overall industry will only succeed in meeting the needs of the marketplace if we have group training through strong local associations. Union and nonunion programs alike, we need a strong local association to assure a growing workforce. Also, all contractors will have to work together to entice young people to get into the trade.

  • As the green movement expands, what will be the role of the association? With politicians’ increasing interest in this issue that is popular with voters, someone must be the voice of reason. Associations will have to be at the forefront to make sure adequate study occurs before new technologies are adopted. In PHCC’s case, we consider this part of our mission of protecting the public’s health and safety.

  • With all the changes occurring in codes and standards, it is important that contractors’ viewpoints be considered. PHCC attempts to have a representative on all code-making bodies to convey the thoughts of the installer. Who is better positioned than the contractor to make sure installations are safe and healthy? The contractor must be part of the process and an association, like PHCC, makes that possible.

  • Proposed federal immigration reform legislation that would place the burden of verifying employment eligibility almost totally on the business owner is now being considered by Congress. Without an organization like PHCC representing contractors’ interests on this and other issues on Capitol Hill, government will not consider their concerns. We are poised to keep contractors from having to police illegal immigrants.

  • With changes occurring in the marketplace, like pre-fab, GPS systems and more, it is very valuable to have educational opportunities available that are designed specifically for contractors. PHCC offers seminars, an annual convention, an e-mail discussion list, Webinars and many networking opportunities to help members stay current with the latest trends and topics.

    Plus, it’s to an individual’s advantage to join an association. Studies have shown that those who do join trade associations are rubbing elbows with high-caliber individuals.

    So the world has changed in the 125-year history of PHCC, but it and other associations are as relevant today as they were when hundreds of plumbing contractors sat down to lavish dinners to discuss the industry’s concerns. Our dinners have become meetings at lunch, on the Web and at educational sessions geared to the successful contractor. Try us out and see if it works for you.
    D.L. “Ike” Casey
    Executive Vice President
    Falls Church, Va.

    Thanks for the good article in the April issue of PM.

    Last year I posed a question to the RPA board of directors: “Is the RPA no longer relevant?”

    With the competition from the Internet and its unprecedented access to information, publishing companies getting into seminars, Webinars, trade shows and conferences, and noted personalities hosting chat rooms and bulletin board communities, what is left for the trade association?

    It was a big question, which led to a better question: “What can associations do that no other organization or individual can?”

    Here are some of the answers we came up with:

    1. Improve products and services:

  • Testing and certification programs for technicians.
  • Performance evaluations of products.
  • Generic, well-rounded training programs.
  • Standards and guidelines development.

    2. Unified representation:
  • Present a common message.
  • Enhance industry credibility.
  • Act as industry spokesman.

    3. Member-owned governance:
  • Member representation.
  • Empowered members.
  • Recognition by peers.

    4. Sense of belonging to something important.

    This is just the short list. The RPA board recently completed its annual strategic planning retreat and came away feeling positive and energized about the future of our organization.

    We realize the world is changing and that associations must change as well. We must redefine how we communicate with our members and emphasize those areas that most benefit them. Most of all, we need to reinforce the reality that the trade association ultimately belongs to its members and they can change the world through their organization, if they so choose.
    Lawrence Drake
    Executive Director
    Radiant Panel Association
    Loveland, Colo.

    One More Editorial
    I have my own HVACR company with no payroll, and have been in business 12 years. Jim Olsztynski’s March editorial (“Selling Trade Careers,” March 2008) ran government numbers of 75,000 U.S. HVAC and plumbing contractors with employees, plus 200,000 HVAC and plumbing self-employed contractors with no payroll (refrigeration contractors are not noted). You might tell them that their numbers might be low.

    Maryland license numbers are numerical. I was the 5,426th Maryland master, hence my HVACR master number is MD-01-5426. Our numbers must be on the truck and I have seen around 40,000 as the highest number of Maryland masters on other contractors’ trucks.

    I received my HVACR master license about 20 years ago. If Maryland has 40,000 license numbers, as I have seen on Maryland trucks for HVACR, then do we have about 20 percent of all U.S. HVAC and plumbing companies? These HVACR numbers don’t include all of Maryland plumbers’ licenses.

    Just curious that the small state of Maryland has that many HVACR masters with their master license numbers painted on their trucks.
    Don MacDonald
    MacDonald Heating & Air LLC
    Balto, Md.

    Jim Olsztynski responds: The data I cited of approximately 75,000 plumbing-heating-cooling contractors was off the top of my head remembering an old number from the U.S. Construction Economic Census taken every five years. A quick check of the latest available Construction Census from 2002 reveals 87,443 PHC contractors. (The 2007 Census is due to be published later this year.) The estimate I had rattling around in my head came from the previous 1997 Census. They say long-term memory is the last to go, and that appears to be the case with this aging brain!

    The census used to count the number of sole proprietorships and partnerships in a separate category, but stopped doing so by the 1990s because the data was too questionable. I recall that figure being somewhere around 150,000 during the 1980s, hence my estimate of 200,000 to date, allowing for population growth.

    The simplest explanation for why these estimates don’t square with the number of licenses in your home state is that many of the license numbers in Maryland and presumably many other states belong to contractors who are no longer in business. As you point out, Maryland issues numbers in chronological order. If an existing contractor does not renew a plumbing or HVAC license, a new contractor will not take over that license but be assigned a new unique number.